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Millions In China Live In Energy Efficient Caves 210

Posted by samzenpus
from the cave-sweet-cave dept.
Hugh Pickens writes "Barbara Demick reports in the LA Times that more than 30 million Chinese people live in caves, many of them in Shaanxi province, where the Loess plateau, with its distinctive cliffs of yellow, porous soil, makes digging easy and cave dwelling a reasonable option. The better caves protrude from mountains and are reinforced with brick masonry. Some are connected laterally so a family can have several chambers. Electricity and even running water can be brought in. 'Most aren't so fancy, but I've seen some really beautiful caves: high ceilings and spacious with a nice yard out front where you can exercise and sit in the sun,' says Ren, who works as a driver in the Shaanxi provincial capital, Xian. 'It's cool in the summer and warm in the winter. It's quiet and safe.' In recent years, architects have been reappraising the cave in environmental terms, and they like what they see. 'It is energy efficient. The farmers can save their arable land for planting if they build their houses in the slope. It doesn't take much money or skill to build,' says Liu Jiaping, director of the Green Architecture Research Center in Xian and perhaps the leading expert on cave living. Liu helped design and develop a modernized version of traditional cave dwellings that in 2006 was a finalist for a World Habitat Award, sponsored by a British foundation dedicated to sustainable housing. Meanwhile, a thriving market around Yanan means a cave with three rooms and a bathroom (a total of 750 square feet) can be advertised for sale at $46,000. 'Life is easy and comfortable here. I don't need to climb stairs. I have everything I need,' says 76-year-old Ma Liangshui. 'I've lived all my life in caves, and I can't imagine anything different.'"
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Millions In China Live In Energy Efficient Caves

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  • Problems... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by bosef1 (208943) on Thursday March 22, 2012 @07:14AM (#39439029)

    I haven't read the articles; are these the same caves that collapse every time that area gets a strong earthquake, causing a huge humanitarian crisis as all of the occupants are buried under the hill?

  • by drainbramage (588291) on Thursday March 22, 2012 @07:17AM (#39439055)

    between living in a cave and your parents basement?

  • Re:Nice... not (Score:4, Insightful)

    by necro81 (917438) on Thursday March 22, 2012 @07:25AM (#39439107) Journal
    When you are sitting inside, how can you tell the difference between one of these finished caves and a house? Look around and its just walls.
  • by Cwix (1671282) on Thursday March 22, 2012 @07:26AM (#39439117)

    You have obviously not squeezed the Charmin.

  • Re:Nice... not (Score:5, Insightful)

    by wisty (1335733) on Thursday March 22, 2012 @07:27AM (#39439127)

    If there's an earthquake, a house has a lower chance of burying you alive.

  • Re:arable land (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Waffle Iron (339739) on Thursday March 22, 2012 @07:40AM (#39439221)

    So much land is devoted to lawns because no matter where people go, they prefer to transform their surroundings to look like the savannas where humans first lived.

  • Re:Nice... not (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ed1park (100777) <ed1park AT hotmail DOT com> on Thursday March 22, 2012 @07:45AM (#39439271)

    Also, it's nice to have a bedrooms/bathrooms with a window. Not only for a view and some fresh air, but it serves as route of escape in case of fire or some threat at the main and only entrance.

    I wonder if radon and other poisonous things are a concern. But if your alternative is living out of cardboard boxes or a landfill with your children, then a cave doesn't seem so bad.

    Families living on landfills:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8wfjgcSxEw8 [youtube.com]
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_o9z43l55PU [youtube.com]

  • by jc42 (318812) on Thursday March 22, 2012 @07:49AM (#39439299) Homepage Journal

    Will advanced civilizations one day find our remains and conclude we were cave dwellers?

    That's already a reasonably common observation in our current civilization (which sometimes characterizes itself as "advanced"). I've seen any number of descriptions of houses as artificial caves. This especially applies to houses made of brick or concrete materials, which are really just artificial stones. If you're living in an area that's mostly flat terrain, making your own mini-hills with a door in the side can be very practical. And we even make "hive" dwelling, which we call apartment building.

    Recently, there have been a number of articles published about the old middle-eastern house construction, that amounts to thick (1 meter or so) outer walls, typically of cheap mud-hay mixtures, covered with a layer of stucco for a harder, waterproof outer shell. The thicker the walls are, the better insulation they provide, and the more stable the internal temperature is. There are old and new "hacienda" style houses in the southwestern US built like this (and fakes that are made with thin stucco-covered walls that don't work nearly as well). It's not unusual for people to observe that this type of house is really an artificial hill constructed around a "cave".

    It's not much of a stretch to call most of our houses "cave dwellings". The difference is mostly a matter of terminology, not function. Pretending that we're "modern" is all well and good, but does somewhat mask the fact that the connections between our dwellings and our ancestors' caves is fairly clear once you get past the pretense that they're something totally different.

  • Re:Problems... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by khallow (566160) on Thursday March 22, 2012 @07:56AM (#39439353)
    Yes, they are the same caves. I don't see this particular issue addressed in any of the stories. I think it's possible to engineer cave dwellings (even ones in dangerous soil like loess, mentioned in the article) to withstand earthquakes, but that is a dangerous oversight for the articles on underground dwellings to make, which might reflect a similar oversight by the people building the current generation of underground dwellings. Or it might just be the usual journalistic incompetence.
  • Re:Problems... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by tp1024 (2409684) on Thursday March 22, 2012 @08:34AM (#39439717)

    But that's natural radioactivity. That's the kind of radioactivity that doesn't cause cancer. (Don't ask.)

  • by Ol Biscuitbarrel (1859702) on Thursday March 22, 2012 @08:38AM (#39439751)

    That makes it sound as if cave dwelling was the norm for humans in the Pleistocene. Actually the reason prehistoric people seemed to dwell in caves is because all the above ground structures they resided in disintegrated in short order, which only makes sense when you think about it. Cave dwelling likely was the exception to the rule, given how uncommon suitable caves are in the first place - the loess plateau in China is the largest of its kind in the world, so it's not surprising to see people take advantage of its properties.

  • Re:arable land (Score:4, Insightful)

    by El Torico (732160) on Thursday March 22, 2012 @08:45AM (#39439829)
    My gardening experience is somewhat different -
    Spend anything from $10-40 per plant in potting soil, pots, cages, seedlings, etc.
    Devote a couple hours of labor, per plant, over the entire growing season to coax them into being productive.
    Step outside one day to see a deer enjoying the last of the tomatoes after devouring everything else in the garden.
  • by buchner.johannes (1139593) on Thursday March 22, 2012 @09:10AM (#39440093) Homepage Journal

    Will advanced civilizations one day find our remains and conclude we were cave dwellers?

    Humans have never been cave dwellers. They just happened to live in caves, too. That we find traces of human settlement in caves is a selection bias -- outside of caves, the evidence has been washed away. It was never a predominant form of settlement.

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